Below is Part 2 of my interview with Joe McKinney:
Craig: What’s the last book in the zombie genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Joe: I guess that would have to be Aiden Bell’s THE ANGELS ARE THE REAPERS. It was beautifully written, but more importantly it made me angry in a way that few books rarely manage. You know you have invested yourself in a book when the ending makes you want to pull your hair out and scream. That was my reaction to Bell’s book. It certainly wasn’t the ending I would have written, but it fit, and it was when I realized that it did fit with the book’s world and the characters and their respective motivations, that I wanted to pull my hair out. Books should engage you like that. They should make you feel so much you react physically.
Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Joe: For me, outlining is the answer. Between a police career, one that calls me in at all hours of the day and night, and raising a family, I have very little time to write. And when I get that time, I can’t afford to sit around wondering what I’m going to write about. I have to be focused and organized. So, outlining is the way to go. I outline extensively before I ever begin writing. In fact, I’m usually organized to the point that I can write chapter 5 today, chapter 32 tomorrow, and chapter 16 the day after that. Between character sketches and back stories and plot points, my outlines can go to 50 or 60 pages, and that’s made all the difference for me. I’ve heard people comment that outlines crimp their style, that they can’t feel creative when they’ve given themselves a road map, and I just shrug. If you’re having trouble finishing your book, and you don’t outline, well, maybe you need to start. But if you’re a Hemingway, and you’re turning out beautiful stuff off the cuff, hey, more power to you. I know what works for me, and it’s outlining.
Craig: What is the best review you ever received for your work, and why did you like it?
Joe: I love getting flattering reviews. Like anybody, I’m not above a little vanity. But my favorite review story came from a website that’s still actively reviewing books, so I won’t punk them out by name. They set out to write a review of my novel DEAD CITY. They went on and on about how much they hated it, how mad it made them. They cited example after example of why no one should ever again give me a writing contract. The only problem was, the book they were actually reviewing was another zombie book with a similar title. It was a surreal experience to be sure. I remember reading it and thinking, “What the hell? That’s not in my book. That’s so-and-so’s book.” Other folks were confused too. You could see it in the comments below the review. Readers of the blog made a fairly big deal out of how the reviewer had no idea what he was talking about. And after all those people pointed out his mistake, he pulled the review from his site. It was pretty funny.
Craig: In my opinion, you create strong characters, particularly in FLESH EATERS. What makes a great character?
Joe: Thanks! I guess the short answer is point of view. In the case of FLESH EATERS, I had the story line in my head long before I thought of any characters to play it out. I could have done the story with a bunch of cops and made a fairly passable shoot ‘em up thriller. But the story demanded more than that, so I looked for a way to give it a more unique perspective. The answer came from my own experience as a police officer. You see, over the years, I’ve watched female police officers treated like second class citizens, both by their fellow cops and by the public at large. Over the years I’ve worked next to a lot of great cops who also happen to be women, but their experiences with sexism and discrimination more often times than not leave them simmering in resentment for the job they once loved, and loved to do well. So, when I sat down to tell the story in FLESH EATERS, it occurred to me that I could make it really interesting if I used a cop who was not only a woman, but a mother, as the view point character. Her inner struggles, mated to the outer struggles inherent in the apocalyptic setting, made her jump off the page. She felt real because she came from real people.
Craig: What are you working on now? What can we expect next from you?
Joe: There’s a lot coming out soon, and a whole lot more in the works. Right now I’m working on Book Four of the Dead World series, called THE ZOMBIE KING. This one picks up eight years after the events in APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD and shows what happens with some of the characters from that book. It hits stores in September, 2012. I’ve also just turned in the manuscript for two short story collections. The first is called THE RED EMPIRE AND OTHER STORIES and brings together eight of my crime and psychological horror stories. That one comes out in January, 2012. The second collection is called DATING IN DEAD WORLD AND OTHER STORIES and brings together all of my zombie fiction to date. That one lands in stores in April, 2012. I’m also editing an anthology of horror stories set in abandoned buildings called THE FORSAKEN, which should be out in April, 2012. I also have a six-part graphic novel coming out in the summer of 2012 called DEAD IN THE WATER. In between those other projects I’ll be doing a bunch of short stories and three novellas. So, there’s quite a bit coming out.
Craig: Thanks for joining us, Joe!
Joe: I was really pleased to take part in this.